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Blog of Sarah McIntyre, children's book writer & illustrator
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1. the #NonIdentikit challenge

Yesterday I was bemoaning the lack of variety in the faces I see comics people and illustrators drawing for their main 'beautiful' characters. When teenagers show me their sketchbooks, so often they've drawn one face, over and over, often inspired by Japanese anime. I grew up with Betty and Veronica, who had the same faces with different colours of straight long hair.

Betty and Veronica, Sailor Moon

I'll do a longer blog post here about it soon, and include more images, but I've set a challenge for myself to draw 20 faces that don't fit the identikit model but are still strikingly beautiful, enough to make you turn around and think, WHOA. Faces that you look at and they're not your standard Hollywood ingenue or female superhero, but you can't stop looking. Sometimes they'll be from non-white ethnicities, sometimes they'll be the white teenage or 20-something women people seem to prefer drawing, but with a difference. A heavier chin, a big nose, a monobrow, the variations we get in real life.

Check the Twitter hash tag #NonIdentikit for updates, and feel free to use the hash tag to contribute your own! You can do detailed portraits or a bunch of quick doodles on a single sheet of paper, whatever you like. I'm hoping to learn a few things by doing this.

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2. fun with sharks and unicorns

From The Funday Times, 14 Dec - read entire comic strip here

I got the nicest e-mail yesterday from a dad named Ben:

Dear Sarah,
I am writing to say how much my 3 year old son, Adam, and I have enjoyed your Shark and Unicorn cartoons in the Funday Times and your website and blog. We have them on the wall in his playroom and he happily spends time reading and laughing. It has definitely helped his reading. We hope there are many more to come.

Kind regards, Ben and Adam

I should add that we have enjoyed the 'how to draw' guides. Adam is obsessed with windmills (we have visited nearly 100 over the past year!) so we have lots of drawings of windmills and the occasional shark, unicorn or Jampire included, often milling!

And that's a picture of Adam, with cut-out Shark & Unicorn strips. Hooray! I don't get as much feedback about Shark & Unicorn as I do about my other work, so it's great to hear that readers out there are enjoying it. My editor, Karen Robinson, was hoping we could aim it at quite young children, but I never really know if those children end up finding it, buried deep in The Sunday Times. So, hurrah, thanks, Adam & Ben! (Perhaps our windmill fan will grow up to read Rob Davis' Don Quixote comics.)

This year has been very caught up in sharks and unicorns, inside out and outside comics! We had a silly unicorn in the Summer Reading Challenge's Mythical Maze, and you can learn how to draw him over on the Guardian website here...

And I always love a good bit of dressing up! Here's one librarian unicorn:

And a Shark in the Bath! I'd love to see more shark-themed costumes for next World Book Day on 5 March. Do send/tweet me a photo if you dress up as one! (Or any of my other characters, for that matter!)

We weren't just drawing unicorns...

Lots of people drew sharks in the bath! (You can see a gallery of some of them in this blog post.)

This video is a couple years old, but it's had more views than any of my other videos and gives a little shark drawing tutorial from my studio:

And click over to my website to print out a colouring sheet, how-to-draw sheet and a kit for making your own little shark book. Hope you have fun with them!

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3. nice pie

Stuart made a lovely pie last night. (Steak and kidney, if you're wondering.)

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4. checking in with vern the sheep

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5. the full dartmoor pegasus... it's pony time!

And here are all twelve installments of the Dartmoor Pegasus story, starring Kevin the fat flying pony, by Philip Reeve and me! Well, we've come to the end of the first story; we might come back to it because I had too much fun to stop.

. . .

In that second-to-last picture, that's Stuart and me in the Pegasus nest with Sam (Philip and Sarah Reeve's son) and Sarah and Philip down below. (Check out Sarah Reeve's great Dartmoor Instagram photos if you want to see more of the landscape.)

Going on hikes with the Reeves, Stuart and I have encountered quite a few of the flightless ponies. Here's one of them:

On one of these walks, I was telling Philip how I'd always wanted to create a horse story because I was one of those horse-obsessed children. My family used to visit a place not far from our house called Kelsey Creek Farm where I took a 'farm experience course'. I remember making such a stink about not wanting to wear this beige farm experience shirt (beige!) but I loved the horse riding. My legs are too short to reach the stirrups in this photo:

I devoured stacks of romantic stories about horses, and here are just a few of them:

And I watched all the films: The Black Stallion, The Black Stallion Returns, Pharlap, The Man from Snowy River... Here's a scene from that last one that I thought was the most amazing thing ever:

For a horse-obsessed kid, I was incredibly lucky. My mother had a friend named Betty who bred show horses, but she always had a pony or two kicking about in the pasture. This one was named Bluebell and I LOVED Bluebell.

In almost all the books I read about horses, they always featured the theme of this SPECIAL BOND between the horse and its rightful owner (the main character). Perhaps no one would be able to ride the horse except this one good-hearted person. The horse would be wild and free, but come as soon as it could sense its beloved master nearby.

I knew that I couldn't possibly love anyone more than Bluebell, and surely she must realise this - I longed to have her love me back - but the problem was that Bluebell HATED me. This was deeply upsetting.

See how tight those reins are? Staying on top of Bluebell was a constant battle. She was the Amazing Inflatable Horse, and would blow up her belly to an obscene size while I was putting on the saddle. Then I'd ride out and she'd blow out all the air and the saddle would flop sideways with me in it. If that didn't work, she's scrape me off along a fence post. Or buck me over her head. Or roll, or throw me into farm equipment.

No one else wanted to ride Bluebell so it became my mission to be the one person who could tame this wild pony and make her love me. We'd go for mad gallops through the pasture and both come back covered in blood and sweat and foam, and Bluebell hated me with renewed vigour.

I never forgot this deep sense of LONGING as a child, and the thrill of riding very fast and not knowing if I'd break my neck and kind of not caring. I thought, I really must write one of those horse books, like the ones I loved as a child.

But... well, take a look at this cover. Here's one of my Black Stallion books:

It's awfully hard to take this stuff seriously when you're a grownup. Them ponies ain't ever gonna love you, little Sarah. I'm not sure I could make one of these stories with a straight face, it might take a better person than me. So when Philip and I started the Dartmoor Pegasus drawings, with their element of fun absurdity, they felt just right.

People have asked if we're doing a book, but I have no idea; I just wanted something fun to draw that doesn't have any expectations or deadline. BUT... hold your horses! There WILL be something for you to read, that is sure to be a great laugh: one of my favourite webcartoonists, Kate Beaton, is bringing out a fat pony book!

The Princess and the Pony
launches at the end of June with Arthur A. Levine Books in the USA, and you can read a Wired interview with her about it here. Kate's book started with some fat pony comics on her blog, such as this one:

Also check out horse books for older kids by Lauren St John. But I wish there were more comics about horses and ponies. The only recent one I can think of is My Little Pony comics. Here are two panels by Andy Price (story by Katie Cook) and you can get a preview of some more on Comic Book Resources website.

I wish I'd known when I was a kid that I could have made horse comics, when I had all that time and passion. I totally would have done that. Why did I not figure that out?? If there had been any at the library, I would have sat down and read them ALL, in one sitting.

News flash to all the little Sarahs of the world: WE CAN ALL MAKE PONY COMICS.

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6. dartmoor pegasus: part 11

And here's the latest installment of the Dartmoor Pegasus, by Philip Reeve and me! (You can read earlier episodes here.)

If you're not from Britain, and don't know what a 'custard cream' is, here's a description. They're not the most luxurious biscuits available, but I like them very much and the packet level goes down very quickly once the tea's made. You can also read a review of the custard cream over at nice cup of tea and a sit down.

And this isn't very much related, but I just thought you might like to see this lovely video, 'Bird on the Wires', by Jarbas Agnelli. He noticed the birds looked like musical notes and decided to see what would happen if he played them.

Direct YouTube link

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7. society of authors: join us on 5 feb!

If you're in London on Thurs, 5 Feb, join Philip Reeve, Shoo Rayner and me for an event on writer-illustrator partnerships and how they can work:

Writer Philip Reeve and illustrator Sarah McIntyre will talk about their collaborative partnership and how they have worked with other writers and illustrators. Do publishers help or hinder artistic relationships by keeping writers and illustrators apart? Are suggestions, from either side of the fence, ever welcome?

The Society of Authors have already advertised the event to their members, so if you're not a member, get in touch with them soon if you want to be sure of getting a ticket. Details on their website!

You can follow The Society of Authors on Twitter - @Soc_of_Authors - Shoo Rayner - @shoorayner - Philip Reeve - @philipreeve1 - and me, @jabberworks.

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8. dartmoor pegasus: part 9

Here's the latest installment in the Dartmoor Pegasus story by Philip Reeve and me. (Catch up on the rest of the story here.)

I'm not the only one bringing creativity to the Dartmoor Pegasus! Here's a piece of haiku, tweeted by @Canzonett:

And this lovely postcard painting arrived in the post, by @thatpebbles! One could easily imagine the Dartmoor Pegasus carved into the turf of a chalky hillside, like the Uffington or Westbury white horses.

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9. dartmoor pegasus: part 8

Back to the Dartmoor Pegasus! Here's the latest installation in the story by Philip Reeve and me. (You can read earlier episodes here.)

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10. cartoons: seeing hope in charlie hebdo

When I heard about the killings of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, I didn't know exactly what to think. I just felt sad. These were people like me, who sit by themselves at a desk most of the time and have family who probably think they work a little bit too hard, and friends who love them. I drew this picture in response and posted it on Twitter.

When I looked at other cartoons on Twitter, I saw a lot of people who were sharing the black and white 'JE SUIS CHARLIE' poster:

Can anyone help and tell me the name of the original artist for this?

I liked that but I wanted more, I wanted drawings that would speak to me about the situation. A lot of the cartoons I saw were pictures of people brandishing pens and pencils, some bloodied and some stuck up people's backsides in an intentionally offensive way, showing people weren't afraid to exercise their freedom of speech. A few were a bit more thoughtful, but I didn't really see anything that reflected my own feelings. Almost all of them were drawn by men. Hardly any of them seemed very funny, despite the fact they were shouting for the right to be funny in an offensive way.

The first drawing I had made reminded me of Marjane Satrapi's comic book, Persepolis, about her family and experiences of the revolution in Iran, which she could only really make because she moved to France. There, she had the freedom to make it and the interest of a comics-loving population, who are willing to spend their money in support of the medium of comics.

From 'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi

Partly it was just the head covering that made me think of Satrapi; I don't have a lot of exposure to comics made by women who wear one, or read many comics about Muslim women. But a lot of women in my neighbourhood in London are Muslim and do wear head coverings. My first drawing met with a lot of support and thousands of retweets, but I did get some criticism for drawing a young girl in a head covering. (I hadn't even meant it to be a kid; I draw mostly children's books and I was drawing a simplified version of a person. But to be fair to the critics, it did look like a child.) Then again, a lot of children in my neighbourhood do wear headscarves. I talked to one mother about it and she said that it was too difficult to try to get a stroppy teenager to start wearing a headscarf if she wasn't already used to it, so she and her friends had their girls start wearing scarves much younger. Whether you agree about the rightness or wrongness of covering one's head, I'm sure you can see her point. (Here's a useful BBC glossary of the different kind of coverings; I often get confused about what each one is called.)

But taking a stance on head covering wasn't the point of my drawing; I wanted to show women drawing, and show at least one of them looking like a Muslim person in my neighbourhood. Just because a person has their head covered doesn't mean they can't draw excellent cartoons. And reading Persepolis opened my eyes to a whole different culture and was one of the first books that helped me understand how powerful cartoons and comics could be. I wanted to read comics written by the Muslim women in my neighbourhood. What are they experiencing in their everyday lives? What are their opinions about what's going on? What about women in Yemen and other Muslim countries? What are they thinking right now? I know they all have stories, but I don't know if they have the freedom to tell them, or are even encouraged to draw. I do have a Muslim cartoonist friend who says that it's not easy for her when she goes back to her birth country; making comics isn't seen as quite the proper thing to do. But all these people have stories inside them. I drew my second picture and tweeted it:

One thing the Charlie Hebdo murders have shown us is that drawings ARE powerful. As I saw my image and other cartoons spread across the Internet, I realised just how well adapted images are to the new world of the Internet and sharing news. My writer friends were writing impassioned articles about the situation on their blogs, but those weren't shared as quickly. This is partly because it takes time to read a blog, and partly because blogs tend to be read by people who already know about the writer and already generally like what they have to say. Also, their blogs were written in English, and couldn't transcend language barriers in the same way. Using pictures and the French hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, anyone from any language group could gather online, share images and communicate this way.

I learned a lot, looking at other people's cartoon responses. It made me think that being a political cartoonist for a newspaper is incredibly hard work; that person has to come up with something funny in a very short amount of time, when they're probably busy working on lots of other projects at the same time to pay the bills. Imagine having to come up with a joke for every political situation, when you barely have time to read enough to understand it. It's a recipe for a lot of hit-and-miss cartoons. Sometimes you just wouldn't be able to think of something funny but you'd still have to produce a cartoon. And I noticed that a lot of cartoonists, in the absence of humour, would just draw something obvious and cruel, in a playground sort of way. It's what makes me not want to be a paid regular political cartoonist, I don't like being cruel for no good reason, and if a picture isn't funny OR cruel, a lot of people find it weak and boring, which isn't an exciting option, either. Being one of these top-notch political cartoonists, with more hits than misses, is a mind-bogglingly difficult job.

But... what if you don't have to come up with regular cartoons? What if you have more time to reflect, and you can make cartoons just about the things that make you feel strongly? This is the situation most of us are in, and now we have the publishing medium of Twitter: all we need is access to the Internet and a way of getting a picture online (a camera phone will work) and with the help of a hashtag, instantly millions of people can see it. This could be the perfect time for cartoons.

Many people mentioned to me on social media that they'd dabbled in drawing and wanted to get back to it, and one person asked me directly, 'How would I even start?' Which made me write this basic introduction to making cartoons and comics, and I drew this, posted it on my blog and tweeted it:

It began to dawn on me that, for me, the most powerful way I could respond to #JeSuisCharlie wasn't to try to imitate the cartoons I'd seen online, but to encourage other people to start drawing comics, people who might not have thought about it until this situation made them realise what a valuable and powerful thing cartooning really is. What could be a better triumph of free speech than if people who have never felt they had a voice began to realise they do? What if 2015 became the year we started seeing ideas and stories pouring out of places we'd never even imagined? What a triumph for expression and a victory over people who tried to suppress cartoonists.

And it wouldn't just be a victory if these new cartoonists started making the kinds of cartoons we want to see. If we're really fighting for freedom of speech, we have to accept that some cartoons and comics will be made by people whose voices we think are weak, whom we find boring, who say things we don't agree with. But no one will be force-marching us into a comic shop to buy these comics or holding us at gunpoint to say that we like them. It's okay not to like things and it's just fine to read comics critically. Occasionally we might find things that challenge us, stretch us, make us think about things in a different light; we might even find stories that we love.

I don't know if my drawings will make any difference. I suspect this blog post won't, because it will take people too long to read. But writing it helps me to think things through more clearly. Sometimes I make comics when I'm not sure what I think about a situation. It helps.

I saw this comic today in the Guardian by comics journalist Joe Sacco. It touched my heart because he showed that he felt the same thing as me when the cartoonists were shot: just plain sadness.

Comic by Joe Sacco in today's Guardian

It's okay to feel sad. Feeling sad isn't weak. I sometimes think that British culture doesn't allow us to be sad, or it tries to make us think that being sad is something feminine. Men are encouraged to be belligerent, to channel their sadness and feelings of powerlessness right away into anger, and to push back. I don't think our society is better for this. Sometimes it's good to sit for a moment, to be sad, to feel pain. And in Joe's situation, after the pain, he created a thoughtful comic. It's telling that it was a comic and not a one-image cartoon; I think it can be hard to say complicated things in a single image. Sometimes we need more comics panels to describe what we're thinking.

Comic by Joe Sacco in today's Guardian

If you know someone who you think might be interested in picking up a pen or pencil and telling their own stories, please share with them my previous blog post about how easy it can be to start making comics. (Here's the link: http://jabberworks.livejournal.com/686575.html) I do so hope we can see something good come out of this situation.

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11. i want to make cartoons & comics but i have no idea where to start!

On Twitter, one of my responses to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy was to post this:

Let 2015 be the year more people from around the world take up cartooning/comics to tell their stories.

Specifically, I'm hoping to see more women take up the baton, because almost all of the cartoons I saw on Twitter were by men. But it would be great to see more comics by everyone, comics are an amazing way of sharing ideas and telling stories that I think most clearly communicate the personality of the creator. Then someone on Twitter very reasonably asked, How would I even start?

Here are some questions you might have, and I've done my best to answer them!

* I'm not sure what kind of comics I like! How do I find out?

There are lots of places you can find comics: online, your local library, bookshops, comics shops are the most obvious places. Don't stop looking if you don't like the first few comics you read: there are as many kinds of comics out there as there are other kinds of books: cooking comics, superhero comics, crime comics, romance comics, autobiographical journal comics, travel comics, DIY comics, the list goes on!

If you're looking for some online comics, here are a few creators and their comics that have inspired me. (Click to follow the links. Note: not all the content may be appropriate for young children.)

Kate Beaton (comics about history, literature, some autobiographical comics)
Philippa Rice and her webcomic My Cardboard Life - fun use of collage!
Stephen Collins - weekly Guardian comic strip
Lucy Knisley
Joe Decie
Dan Berry - Dan also does a great series of podcasts interviewing cartoonists on his Make It Then Tell Everybody website.
Isabel Greenberg
Eleanor Davis
Boulet (in English, in French)

* Do I have to be good at drawing?

No. Most of my favourite comics are by people who draw well, but a lot of the creators I follow have improved a lot since I first started following them; you'll get better with practice. But there are some popular cartoonists out there who deal almost entirely with clever writing, such as Ryan North, who uses the same pictures but changes the dialogue in his Dinosaur Comics. Randall Munroe communicates ideas very effectively with stick people on his webcomic blog xkcd:

You don't always need to have complicated backgrounds; see this comic in a series about people's Deep Dark Fears by Fran Krause. (It looks like she's drawn it with a brush pen or pen and coloured it with watercolour paint.)

Tom Gauld draws brilliantly but he often keeps things incredibly simple:

There are different levels of polish you can put on a comic, and sometimes it's more important just to get a comic made, than to make it perfect. I sometimes make rough comics like this Hourly Comic, where the project was to make panel or set of panels for every hour of that day that I'm awake:

And here's a more polished comic that I drew with pen and then and coloured digitally. (The simple but funny story was written for me by a group of five-year-old girls in Paddington Library.) It's not complicated: a character and four panels for something to happen. (The 'panels' are the boxes that contain the pictures. You don't have to draw a line around them but you can if it's handy for telling your story.)

* Do I have to be good at writing?

The most important thing about writing a comic is making sure the person reading it can understand it. Don't worry about having the coolest-sounding dialogue or using flowery language, the most important thing is that people can work their way from the top left to the bottom right and not have to stumble around trying to figure out what you mean. (Obviously some languages read differently and the comics will read in a different direction.) The best way to learn how this is done is to read lots of comics and study how they work. Also, try out your comic on a friend you trust and see if they can read it and understand it without having to ask you questions.

* What's the difference between a cartoon, a comic, a webcomic and a graphic novel?

Comics people will debate this forever and it doesn't really matter, just make what you like. But I'd say that a cartoon is a one-panel comic, where everything happens in a single picture. A lot of political cartoons are like this, such as this one by Chris Riddell:

A comic is something that tells a story in two pictures or more. A webcomic is a comic that's published online. A graphic novel is just a fancy name for a longer comic packaged up as a book.

* Do my comics have to be funny?

No. This put me off making comics for years because I thought I had to come up with funny pay-off lines (punchlines) at the end and I could never think of any. Comics can be about as many things that books and films can be about, and not all books and films are funny. If you're hired by a newspaper to make a daily joke cartoon, then they expect you to be funny, but if you're making your own material, do whatever you like. Katie Green struggled with anorexia and abuse and documented it in her comic Lighter than My Shadow. Marjane Satrapi's book Persepolis has lots of funny moments, but it also deals with her struggles and family tragedies during the revolution in Iran. Darryl Cunningham worked as a nurse in a hospital ward and wrote about different kinds of mental illness (including his own struggle with depression and treatment) in his book Psychiatric Tales.

Sometimes once you get started, you'll find humour pops up in your comic almost by accident, because that's life; it can be a bit funny or absurd sometimes.

* Do I have to write about certain subjects?

No! In fact, some of the most interesting comics are written by people who have a niche interest in something. Kate Beaton really loves history and she makes amazing comics reimagining historical situations. Lucy Knisley loves cooking and wrote a whole book about food in Relish. Posy Simmonds reinterpreted the classic novel Emma Bovery in her book Gemma Bovery. Simone Lia wrote about an anxious, childlike rabbit in Fluffy. Maybe you love science, archeology, air hockey or listening to conversations on the bus.

* Does it matter which drawing tools I use?

No. You can make comics with a huge variety of drawing materials. They can be as simple as a pencil and paper, or you can use ink, or paint, collage, photos, anything. You can scan things into a computer and assemble them digitally. (I use Adobe Photoshop for this.) When I make comics, some of my favourite tools are a mechanical pencil for sketching it out, Faber Castell Pitt pens (especially the 'Fine' tip) and a Pentel brush pen. For Vern and Lettuce and my Shark and Unicorn strip for The Funday Times, I like to do the black outline in old-fashioned dip pen, because it gives me a nice uneven line.

But you just need to find out what works best for you and is the most convenient. Play around with some good quality materials if you get the chance; sometimes you'll find that nice materials will make your work look better. But not always. Sometimes cheap coloured pencils or crayons will always look bad, no matter how well you draw. Philippa Rice tries out different art supplies in this webcomic strip:

* What are some of your top tips for finding inspiration?

1.) Start a blog. This is like an online sketchbook and it lets you see what you've been working on, all together in one place. If you like, you can use it to share your work with other people. Set yourself a challenge of posting something, say, once a day.

2.) Set yourself small projects. Don't set out right away to make an EPIC 200-page graphic novel. You'll get overwhelmed by the size of the project that you'll be tempted to quit, and your drawing will have changed quite drastically by the end of it, because you'll be improving as you go. Start small. A four-panel comic. An 8-page little book. A drawing a day. Here are some small projects I've enjoyed:

- Hourly Comic: Make a comics panel or set of panels for every hour you're awake. (It's like being on your own reality television show.)

- Draw yourself as a teenager.

- Take part in a Comics Jam. Have a friend draw one panel, you draw the next, your friend draws the next, and so on. You can find a detailed guide to leading Comics Jam on the Jampires website, and here's a Jampires Comics Jam that I drew with my friend David O'Connell (who makes ace comics).

- Make a whole book in a single day. (That forces you not to be too precious about it; the goal is just go finish it.) A hardcore version of this is the 24-Hour Comic, where you draw a 24-page book in 24 hours. I did this for the first time this year (see my full comic here.)

- Make a little book to give to friends or sell/swap at a comics festival. You can print copies of your comic on your home printer, go to a photocopy shop or find an online printer who can do you a reasonable deal. Having a deadline such as a comics event, birthday or holiday (where you need it as a gift) is a great incentive for finishing a project.

- Make a travel comic. This is a great souvenir of a trip, and can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. I bought some A5 sketchbooks and did this comic in Alaska and this comic in China. If it's too complicated drawing people, you can draw them as potato characters or as simplified animals.

- Write a letter comic to a friend. (Here's one I made.)

- Make a comic about someone in your family. This can be a good excuse to ask questions of an elderly relative; maybe they have a story they love to tell you about themselves, and you can turn it into a comic. Here's a comic I made about a memory of my grandfather. (You can read the whole comic here.)

3.) See if there are any local comics festivals you can attend. It's a great way to meet other people who make comics and you might find inspiration in the books people have for sale. Often this is a great way to buy home-made comics you'd never be able to find in shops. (Two of my favourite in England are Thought Bubble in Leeds and the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal.)

4.) Don't be too hard on yourself. It's okay to make bad cartoons and comics. Everyone starts out making bad stuff. Just keep making that bad stuff, and gradually you'll find they're less and less bad until they start being good. Sometimes it's fun to draw intentionally badly. I make interesting discoveries when I play around and let myself make mistakes.

* Can you recommend any guide books about how to make comics?

Scott McCloud does three excellent books, written in comics format: Understanding Comics, Reinventing Comics, Making Comics They're pitched at a grow-up level and are fairly theoretical; you'll really understand all the mechanics of how a comic works and how your brain takes it in.

If you want something a bit more fun and simple, or for younger children, Neill Cameron's book How to Make Awesome Comics is full of great ideas to get you started. You can buy it right from the publisher website, and I'd recommend any of the comics sold in their online Phoenix Comic shop, they're all top-quality and family-friendly.

...I hope that helps!

I have a bit more advice over on the Frequently Asked Questions part of my website. And loads of comics artist are on Twitter and happy to answer your questions. Good luck, I hope you find cartooning and comics a great way to share your ideas and tell your stories!

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12. dartmoor pegasus, part 7

(See the earlier episodes here.) Sad events yesterday, but we just keep doing what we do. Tell stories, draw pictures, keep flying.

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13. sending love

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14. dartmoor pegasus: part 6

Dartmoor's fat flying ponies find themselves grounded. (Here's the latest installment in the Dartmoor Pegasus series by Philip Reeve & me.)

I love drawing Dartmoor, it's like visiting Middle Earth. It had fun with the detail in this one, trying to capture the twisty trees and stone walls. And a little tor on the horizon.

Speaking of Middle Earth, we have a new troll in our studio. (Elissa Elwick arranged him nicely for the photo.)

And one more thing, this is quite funny. (Thanks for the link, nice_cup_of_tea!)

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15. dartmoor pegasus: part 5

FLUMP. (By Philip Reeve & me, see earlier entries.)

Philip has blogged about the Dartmoor Pegasus, and you can also read his new review of the film Maleficent, which I also very much enjoyed.

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16. dartmoor pegasus: part 4

By Philip Reeve & me: it all starts to go horribly wrong for the fat flying ponies.

(You can see previous Dartmoor Pegasus episodes here.)

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17. shark & unicorn's museum

I'd been missing these comic strips going out in The Funday Times in The Sunday Times (probably because I was flat on my back with 'flu), so here's a peek at the Shark & Unicorn that ran on 14 December!

My editor's brief was that it be MUSEUM-themed, to tie in with the section's featured film, Night at the Museum 2.

(You can read previous Shark & Unicorn strips here.)

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18. dartmoor pegasus: part 3

The fat flying ponies of Dartmoor meet their first resistance.

(Read previous episodes here.)

EXTRA! I just have to include this Dartmoor Pegasus Toaster drawing by Howard Partridge:

(He's hoping for a return to the apocryphal toast appearance.)

In other news: here's an interesting link to '10 comics that shut down terrible internet arguments', worth a browse. The one about the sea lion really made me giggle.

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19. sam

It looks a little bit like him, but not exactly because he wouldn't sit still for more than ten seconds.

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20. the dartmoor pegasus

Meet the Legend:

Ha ha, Kevin the fat Dartmoor Pegasus isn't my creation, he started out as a little painting that looks sort of pre-historic but was actually painted by Philip Reeve and hung above a door in his kitchen.

He modelled a more slimline version of the Pegasus out of Sculpey clay for his wife, Sarah, for Christmas. I love its stubby little legs and gilded wings, so cute!

So for the picture, I set the Pegasus atop this rocky outcropping - a tor - where earlier in the week I'd photographed his son, Sam.

That's how a lot of story ideas come about, taking a made-up creature and putting it somewhere I've had fun exploring. And hanging out with Philip always gives me lots of ideas (which is why I love making books with him). Even the grass on Dartmoor is inspiring, I want to sit there drawing it all day long.

In other news: Jamie Smart just linked on Bored Panda to some great comics by Fran Krause (@frankrause on Twitter), about people's fears, some quite odd. Check out Deep Dark Fears.

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21. dartmoor pegasus meets the toast of legend

And then the oversize slice rose up with a mighty PING.

Today's morning sketch; see yesterday's Dartmoor Pegasus. The rocks are based loosely on this chunk, which looks like it really ought to have some sort of domestic function.

Also, have a look at this beautiful and sad comic by Lucy Knisley: A comic about a sad thing that happened.

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22. dartmoor christmas, london new year

This year's been amazing but I've also been working very long hours, so it was BRILLIANT to get away with Stuart to Dartmoor for five days over Christmas. Dartmoor must be one of the most beautiful places in the whole world, it's like stepping into a Tolkein book or a Dark Crystal film set.

Photo by Sarah Reeve

Stuart's dad died this year and my parents are far away in Seattle, so we were so glad to be adopted again by the lovely Reeve family. Their poodle, Frodo, was thrilled about GIFT WRAP everywhere.

Photo by Sarah Reeve

Oh, poodle happy day!

Photo by Sarah Reeve

We went for lots of walks, including some which were a bit muddy to suit the footwear of everyone involved.

Photo by Sarah Reeve

I love the tors scattered around Dartmoor, it's like being in some amazing sculpture park.

I call this Pancake Tor.

Boxing Day, in particular, was VERY MISTY. Well, downright wet, actually. But the moor still looked beautiful then, what we could see of it.

This tor almost looks like the ancient rubble of some giants' fortress.

It was so good to be with friends, including glamorous moorland photographer Sarah Reeve (she's @SarahReeve3 on Twitter).

And comedy duo Philip Reeve and his scooter-obsessed son, Sam.

I love how the moor messes with my sense of scale. My Cakes in Space co-author Philip looks like a 1/48th-scale action figure in this setting:

Tiny Reeve o' the Rocks:

And the landscape's so varied, with so many beautiful, subtle colours.

Everything from wide grassy plains (spot Reeve & son by the holly tree)...

...to mossy forests with boulders that look like the trolls in Frozen.

And yes, we occasionally get very wet, but this is okay because we have ponchos! And wellies. Well, I have wellies to stomp around in, I don't know why Stuart doesn't wear them.

But that is why it is so nice to come back to SNACKS.

Philip's parents brought Christmas cake from the local Christmas fĂȘte. (We don't really do Christmas cake in the USA with marzipan and royal icing, just fruitcake, so here's a description if you're interested.)

Oh, and Christmas pudding, of course.

The Flake bar in breakfast cereal is Sam's addition to festive food.

And here's the inevitable Mountain of Teabags.

And prezzies! Sam got Mark Lowery books and was thrilled:

But also orange gloop.

I spent a WHOLE EVENING stitching this pug cushion for Philip - to give something genuinely homemade, you see - but I'm not Felt Mistress and it didn't come out exactly how I'd hoped. But then I didn't have time to make another prezzie, so he had to lump it.

Sam and I got busy with Sarah on camera, making light drawings:

And I didn't have time (or shelter) on walks to make landscape drawings, but I did a few portraits in the dry indoors. (I've posted them earlier but wanted to keep them all together in one blog post here.) Here's Sam:

And Sarah:

Philip's dad was making his own drawing with the sketchbook and brush pen I gave him, so he held still much better than Sam:

And a bit of moss I found on the ground:

Thanks so much for hosting us, Reeve family; you're the best! :)

Then it was back to London, and one last hurrah for 2014 at the house of our friends Eddie and Caroline. (Eddie Smith is the sculptor who helps make the more ornate of my hats and their daughter, Dulcie, stars in my picture book There's a Shark in the Bath.)

We even had a surprise piper appearance:

Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks so much for following this blog, and I hope 2015 is a good one for you. Don't miss Philip's Year in Review, which you can read on his blog here.

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23. dartmoor pegasus: part 1

This year I want to try harder to make a just-for-fun drawing every day. I've been having such a good time drawing the Dartmoor Pegasus - inspired by Philip Reeve's little painting and sculpture (see the earlier blog post) - that he's agreed to do an ongoing story with me, to accompany my drawings.

So here we go, let the story begin! Check back for updates. (And, of course, check out my other stories with Philip - Oliver and the Seawigs, Cakes in Space - he's such a fab writer.)

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24. dartmoor pegasus: part 2

Here's what Part 2 looked like before I coloured it and added lettering:

And after:

(See Part 1 of Dartmoor Pegasus by Philip Reeve & me.)

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25. shark & unicorn & penguins

Oh my goodness, I mustn't forget Shark & Unicorn in The Funday Times! I think I must have a thing for chubby equine mythical creatures.

This comic ran on 30 November, and my brief was that it be PENGUIN themed.

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